Can you believe we’ve made it to the end of National Park Week? We’re so excited to be celebrating this year’s BARK Ranger Day with members of the National Parks Creative Exchange. And what better way to wrap up a terrific week than with a special guest joining us today! We’re thrilled to have Brad Ryan from Grandma Joy’s Road Trip sharing some thoughts on BARK Ranger Day and what it’s like to share national park experiences with a pet.
What is BARK Ranger Day?
Each year during National Park Week, the NPS celebrates BARK Ranger Day. It encourages dog owners to sign your pet up to be a B.A.R.K. Ranger:
B.A.R.K. stands for:
- B – Bag your pet waste.
- A – Always wear your leash.
- R – Respect wildlife.
- K – Know where you can go.
Along with becoming a BARK Ranger, you can also sign up to be a BARK Ranger Ambassador, volunteering to help educate visitors with pets on park regulations and positive pet behaviors. The National Park Service has found the BARK Ranger program to be highly effective at reducing pet-related fines and incidents in the national parks.
About Brad & Grandma Joy’s Road Trip
Grandma Joy’s Road Trip began in September 2015 when Brad Ryan asked his grandmother Joy Ryan to join him on a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since then, he and Grandma Joy, 90, have been on a #parkchasing quest to visit all 62 national parks. As of April 2020, they’ve visited 53 of 62 national parks and documented their travels on social media.
We reached out to Brad to talk about BARK Ranger Day because when he’s not traveling around the United States with Grandma Joy, he works as a veterinarian. He and Grandma Joy have also had the chance to share some of their national park adventures with pets along the way. Here’s what Brad had to say when we asked him about sharing the outdoors with our furry friends.
A Note from Brad Ryan:
Looking back on my life, there is no doubt that I became a veterinarian because my love of animals was instilled in me from an early age by people like my Grandma Joy. The same is true about my passion for the great outdoors. In fact, one of my earliest memories was catching crayfish with Grandma Joy in a stream at Blue Rock State Park near our homes in southeastern Ohio. And so the sweetest moments we recall in our lives are those leisurely walks in the woods with the dogs that own our hearts.
Most of our road trips have been lengthy multi-state adventures that were logistically challenging in their own right, so we left our dogs at home. We actually traveled to 22 U.S. National Parks before we finally took a two-hour day trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in our home state of Ohio during the summer of 2018. It was the perfect opportunity to share Grandma Joy’s Road Trip with a couple of passengers we knew would appreciate an adventure as much as we do. It is bittersweet looking back on that day, as Grandma Joy’s miniature schnauzer, Molly, and my giant schnauzer, Rainmaker, have both passed away in the past year. But the memories we created that day will live eternally in our hearts.
We started our day by walking the boardwalk to Brandywine Falls together. Our dogs lapped up head rubs from admiring park visitors while we all stared at the 60-foot waterfall that flowed mightily before our eyes. After basking in the mist of Brandywine Falls, we hiked the trail around The Ledges. We followed the steep valley walls which were blanketed by verdant moss until we stopped to take a long break on a shady hillside peppered with ferns. Ohio humidity is an oppressive force like no other, so one always needs to do their homework and prepare accordingly for a National Parks visit. A thermos of ice water and a collapsible dog bowl made the day more pleasant for all of us. After offering Rainmaker and Molly some water, we hiked back to our vehicle, stopping intermittently to admire the flashes of color offered by a scarlet tanager or swallow tail butterfly flying across the trail.
We completed our day trip by resting on a bench facing Kendall Lake, the largest in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We spend our whole lives chasing extraordinary moments, and often lose sight of the simple beauty right in front of us. For many National Parks enthusiasts, that means climbing the next highest summit in pursuit of an expansive landscape in a valley far below. Before I started traveling with Grandma Joy, I was fixated bagging as many peaks as I could in a single weekend or crushing as many miles in a day like I did when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. But as my eyes bounced from Rainmaker to Grandma Joy and Molly, I realized the power contained in life’s seemingly ordinary moments. We were together for a fleeting moment in time relishing the simple beauty of a summer day in our backyard, and the magic was elevated by the sheer joy our dogs showed us with every tail wag and mystery they uncovered with their keen sense of smell. They were clearly in a world all their own discerning the backstory of coyotes and foxes that patrolled the same trails the night before. If only they could tell us what they knew, but at least we knew they were happy.
Humans and dogs both undergo an undeniable transformation when we return to the natural places from which our ancestors came. It’s in our DNA. Seizing a day that could be spent a million other ways is alchemy incarnate when the choice we make is to share wild spaces with the people, and yes, the pooches that we love the most. We are reminded of our true nature and we recognize the void in our hearts when we are cut off from the great outdoors. Remembering who we really are is the greatest gift our National Parks offer. Each new park is an opportunity to write a new chapter for a life well lived.I’m grateful their paw prints are forever a part of our story.
Follow Grandma Joy’s Road Trip Online
To read more about Brad and Grandma Joy’s Road Trip and follow along online check out:
How your pet can become a BARK Ranger
To read more about the BARK Ranger program and to find out which national parks allow pets, visit the National Park Service Pets page: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/pets/visit.htm or check out our Q & A post on “Can I Bring my Pet to a National Park?”